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  • Diotima’s Ghost:The Uncertain Place of Feminist Philosophy in Professional Philosophy
  • Margaret Urban Walker (bio)

When asked about the state of feminist philosophy in the profession of academic philosophy, I am not sure what question I'm trying to answer. Is it a question about the success of feminist philosophy as it has emerged into professional discourse since the 1970s? If this is the question, what are the measures of success? For many women who founded or contributed to feminist philosophy the very existence of feminist philosophy as a category of philosophy recognized in the profession seems to constitute a great success. The establishment of feminist philosophy within professional philosophy in the twentieth century is incontestable, given such facts as the following. There is a large and generationally layered literature that includes new subject matters as well as forms of critical analysis of other philosophical discourses and of the philosophical tradition. A well-established journal, Hypatia, is devoted to feminist work. Anthologies, textbooks, companions, and guides to feminist philosophy are published by major presses, and there are book series in feminist philosophy at one major university press and one major commercial academic publisher. Feminist philosophy now appears as an area of competence and (much less frequently) as an area of specialization in professional job listings. The Society for Women in Philosophy, a professional organization devoted to feminist philosophy, has been around since the 1970s, and FEAST (Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory) hosts its second national conference in 2005. Courses in feminist philosophy are offered at undergraduate and graduate levels at a great [End Page 153] many colleges and universities, and dissertations are written on authors and topics that belong to the philosophical literature of feminist philosophy. So much now exists that didn't exist twenty-five years ago, and it is all the more remarkable that the emergence of what now exists as feminist philosophy was often greeted, when it was not ignored, with ridicule or threat as well as incomprehension. Some still say that feminist philosophy "isn't philosophy," but in so far as feminist philosophy enjoys a place on the map of professional philosophy, it clearly is.

What can we assume, however, about the future of feminist philosophy? Philosophical schools and movements come and go. Feminist philosophy is here, but we might ask whether it will endure, what impact it will have on the discipline of academic philosophy, and to what extent its distinctive contributions will become embedded in the standard training we afford to students who undertake the study of philosophy. Unfortunately, we have reason to worry about the future of feminist philosophy on every score. My enjoyment of the emergence of feminist philosophy is tempered by what is revealed in the four volumes of A History of Women Philosophers, edited by Mary Ellen Waithe and produced through the collaborative work of many scholars (Waithe 1987, 1989, 1991, 1995). Browsing through this remarkable work, one discovers something little known even now: feminist philosophy existed before its current flowering. In her introduction to the final volume, Waithe brings to our attention a striking and disturbing result of this massive research project: "The record shows that in every historical epoch in which we have a record of men engaging in philosophy, we also have a record of women engaging in philosophy." Moreover, "In every epoch there have been women philosophers who confronted women's issues, inquired as to women's nature, and exhorted their male counterparts to take them seriously." So women have addressed 'the woman question' "ever since there have been women philosophers," just as they have also addressed virtue, sense perception, and metaphysics all along the way (Waithe 1995, xli–xlii). The completed project documents Waithe's claim. Even a partially accurate history of philosophy that restores forgotten women shows that twentieth-century feminist philosophy is really a fourth wave. It was preceded by early female Pythagoreans, learned philosophers of the convents and monasteries like Hildegard of Bingen and renaissance women like Christine de Pisan, and our more familiar foresisters from Mary Wollstonecraft in the eighteenth century on to Emma Goldman and Jane Addams in the twentieth. For inclusion in her compendium Waithe used...


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pp. 153-165
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Archived 2009
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